Tools & Technologies

Thursday's 2.0 Report

We, the people, use software and IT services to get our work done, to express ourselves, to speak our words. IT infrastructures, traditionally hardwired to and brittle within the enterprise, are being challenged by new waves of innovation on the public Internet that challenge long-held notions of how things should be done, bring new freedom and liberation of expression, and eventually impact how enterprise IT is architectured. Web 2.0 is one such wave, apparently.

What is Web 2.0?
On this, my first public posting about this movement labeled “Web 2.0”, it is highly appropriate that we start by defining terms, and exploring what Web 2.0 is all about. I now work for a Web 2.0 company, am giving a presentation on “Enterprise 2.0 / Web 2.0” in Auckland NZ in August (coordinated by Bright*Star, but not yet on the calendar), and aim to attend the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco in November. Thursday’s 2.0 report is my structured way of learning, expressing, and participating. I welcome you to learn, express and participate along with me, either here or on your own blog.

Tim O’Reilly published a well-regarded article entitled What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software in late September 2005. Tim is the guy behind O’Reilly Publishers, and was one of the founding voices for the Web 2.0 conference.

Here’s some of the points Tim raises in his article:

  • The core competencies of Web 2.0 are: (a) services, not packaged software; (b) an architecture of participation (involvement, collaboration); (c) cost-effective scalability; (d) remixable data source and data transformations; (e) software above the level of a single device (it isn’t tied to a specific device / computer); and (f) it harnesses collective intelligence. Tim’s meme map (below) puts these core competencies at the core (funnily enough!), and then shows the implications of those ideas at the edges.
  • The idea of “harnessing collective intelligence” is critical (on Tim’s page 2). The essential idea is to provide a place / a framework / a location / a service where users contribute content … some give a lot, others give a little … and then to aggregate those individual items into a collective or cohesive whole. By taking the contributions of lots and lots of individuals, and aggregating or accumulating them into a higher-order view, good stuff happens. It’s the ultimate word-of-mouth system … rather than getting a recommendation only from the small group of people that you know and interact with in physical space, you can get an aggregated view of what “everyone else” is saying about some thing, and use that as input into your participation, involvement or purchasing decisions. Tim explains how Google, eBay, Amazon, Wikipedia, Flickr, Cloudmark and others build off this idea as a core component of their success.
  • RSS, a standardized technology that enables people to subscribe to a website, blog or service for notification of new material is a critical underpinning of Web 2.0. RSS means that people don’t have to manually visit a web site or blog multiple times a day or week to see what has changed or what is new; those changes now flow to them automagically via RSS. Or more correctly, the user has a special software client (yes, some are browser-based) that enables them to subscribe to an RSS feed; their software client will then periodically request the most recent RSS page from the source of each subscription, and then show those updates in an easy-to-understand way. Any web site can create an RSS feed (or page) that’s available for subscription; although blogging products and platforms were early adopters of the technology, it is being embraced more widely, such as for the delivery of online news as a replacement for email messages.
  • Permalinks, or permanent links to a specific page, blog post, article or item of information on a web site, have been critical in turning the Web into a place for conversation. People can link to the specific thing that someone else said on their blog / web site, and comment on it. Readers wanting more information or background can click through to the original post, and see the context and full content. Permalinks mean that information doesn’t get lost in the general noise on a blog or web site; you can go back and find the specific item at any time. Permalinks have also been a boon for search engines, such as Google, enabling them to link to highly specific piece of high value information, rather than only being able to link to a general web site address.
  • Ownership of the core data that others have contributed, and leverage of that data for widespread benefit, is a key competitive positioning move by Web 2.0 players. The data that everyone contributes becomes the ties that bind those people to the service, especially when that data is merged, mixed and matched with similar or contrary data points from others. Tagging vs. Foldering is a debate going on within the email world … is it better to get people to “tag” messages with a phase or two to make recall/find easier, or is the traditional “I put that into a folder” the better way? For me the key difference is that tags can be merged with aggregated tags sets/clouds, such as in Technorati, whereas you can’t do that with emails that are just put into a folder. So if you want to use the tags you attach to your messages as a way of serendipitously finding out what other people have put into the same category, then tagging wins. If not, as far I can see, folders work just fine. Tagging at Technorati obviously applies to many other things, but the key insight here is that Technorati doesn’t provide the content; we, as individual people, provide the content, and Technorati merges and synthesizes and aggregates that for us, the collective, to use.
  • Other key ideas include the constant delivery of incremental and innovative improvements to a service, rather than scheduling things out in a formal software release cycle. New things just “pop-up” or suddenly appear for the user to benefit from, often only heralded by a blog post from the company. Lightweight programming models enable people to take the data or intelligence from one service, and use it in real-time in another one. RSS, as discussed above, is one such simple way of getting data out of one place and into another. A common theme with all of the programming models is simplicity, low barriers to usage, and therefore high usability. Software that is above the level of a single device is another key principle at play in the Web 2.0 world … it involves the bringing together of different software elements from different servers onto devices and making it work in a seamless way.
  • The final core competency in the Web 2.0 world is that of rich user experiences. We, the people, have become very used to graphically rich and responsive desktop applications, and it is therefore natural that we’d expect the same type of thing in a web oriented world. A number of web technologies are at the point where they can deliver a desktop-like experience through a browser interface.

Tim wrote in more depth and detail than what I have above, and there’s 41 comments as of today to read through, digest and understand. Until next time … enjoy.

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Categories: Tools & Technologies